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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 25

This webpage reproduces a Chapter of
The Secret History


published in the Loeb Classical Library,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 27

The Anecdota
or Secret History

Chapter XXVI

 p301  We shall now tell how he succeeded in destroying the marks of distinction and all the things which confer honour and beauty both in Byzantium and in every other city. 2 First he decided to abolish the rank of rhetor;​1 for he straightway deprived the rhetors of all their competitive prizes in which they had formerly been wont to revel and take great pride when they had discharged their function as advocates, and he ordered those at variance with one  p303 another to litigate directly under oath; and being thus scorned, the rhetors fell into great despondency. 3 And after, as has been said, he had taken away all the properties of the Senators and of the others who were considered prosperous, both in Byzantium and throughout the whole Roman Empire, there was nothing left for this profession thereafter other than to remain idle. 4 For men possessed nothing of any value whatsoever, concerning which they might dispute with one another. Immediately, thereafter, having become few in number instead of many and being everywhere held in no esteem at all though they had formerly been most highly esteemed, they were oppressed by extreme poverty, as was to be expected, and in the end gained nothing from their profession except insults alone.

5 Nay more, he also caused physicians and teachers of free-born children to be in want of the necessities of life. For the allowances of free maintenance which the former Emperors had decreed should be given to men of these professions from the public funds he cancelled entirely. 6 Furthermore, all the revenues which the inhabitants of all the cities had been raising locally for their own civic needs and for their public spectacles he transferred and dared to mingle them with the national income. 7 And thereafter neither physicians nor teachers were held in any esteem, nor was anyone able any longer to make provision for public buildings, nor were the public lamps kept burning in the cities, nor was there any other consolation for their inhabitants. 8 For the theatres and hippodromes and circuses were  p305 all closed for the most part — the places in which, as it happened, his wife had been born and reared and educated. And later he ordered these spectacles to close down altogether, 9 even in Byzantium, so that the Treasury might not have to supply the usual sums to the numerous and almost countless persons who derived their living from them. 10 And there was both in private and in public sorrow and dejection, as though still another affliction from Heaven had smitten them, and there was no laughter in life for anyone. 11 And no other topics whatever arose in the conversation of the people, whether they were at home or in the market-place or were tarrying in the sacred places, than disasters and calamities and misfortunes of novel kind in surpassing degree.

12 Such was the situation in the cities. And that which remains to be told is worth recounting. Two Consuls of the Romans were chosen each year, the one in Rome and the other in Byzantium. 13 And whoever was called to this honour was sure to be required to spend more than twenty centenaria of gold​2 on the State, a small portion of this being his own money but the most of it supplied by the Emperor. 14 This money was distributed to those whom I have mentioned and to those, as a general thing, who were altogether destitute of means of subsistence, and particularly to performers on the stage, and thus provided constant support for all civic undertakings. 15 But since the time when Justinian took over the Empire, these things were no  p307 longer done at the appropriate seasons; but although at first a Consul was appointed for Romans after a long interval, yet finally the people never saw that official even in a dream,​3 and consequently mankind was being most cruelly pinched by a kind of poverty, since the Emperor no longer provided his subjects with what they had been wont to receive, but kept on depriving them in every way and everywhere of what they still possessed.

16 Now how this despoiler has been swallowing up all the public monies and how he has been fleecing the members of the Senate of their property, both individually and all of them in common, has, I think, been sufficiently described. 17 And how he has circumvented by blackmailing methods the others likewise who are reputed to be prosperous, and has succeeded in robbing them of their money, this I consider to have been told by me quite adequately; aye, and the soldiers and those who serve all the magistrates and those who serve in the Palace as guards, and the farmers and the owners and masters of lands, and those whose profession is oratory, — nay more, the shipping-merchants and the owners of ships and the sailors, and the mechanics and day-labourers and the tradesmen of the market-place and those who derive their living from performances on the stage, and, furthermore, all the other classes, I may say, which are reached by the damage which issues from this man.

18 And we shall proceed forthwith to tell how he treated the beggars and the common folk and the  p309 poor and those afflicted with every form of physical handicap; for his treatment of the priests will be described in my subsequent books.​4 19 First of all, having taken control, as has been said, of all the shops and having established what are called the monopolies of all the most indispensable goods, he proceeded to exact from the whole population more than threefold the usual prices. 20 Now as to his other doings, inasmuch as they have seemed to me past counting, I, for my part, could not aspire to catalogue them even in an endless narrative; but I will say that from the purchasers of bread he stole most cruelly at all times, men who, being manual labourers and impoverished and afflicted with every physical handicap, could not possibly avoid buying bread. 21 For in order to realize from this source as much as three centenaria​5 each year, he required that the loaves should be both more expensive and full of ash;​6 for this Emperor did not hesitate to resort to even so impious an act of shameful covetousness as this. 22 And those who were charged with this office, using this pretext as an excuse for contriving some private gains, did indeed find it easy to attain great wealth of a sort, but in so doing they were constantly, strange as it seemed, creating for the poor a man-made famine in times of abundance; for it was absolutely forbidden that any man should import even cornº from elsewhere, but it was required of all that they should buy and eat these loaves.

23 And though they saw that the city's aqueduct had  p311 been broken and was delivering only a small fraction of the water into the city, they took no notice of the matter and would not consent to spend any money on it whatever, in spite of the fact that a great throng of the people, bursting with indignation, was always gathered at the fountains, and that all the baths had been closed. And yet he squandered a great mass of money for no good reason on buildings over the sea​7 and other senseless structures, building new ones in all parts of the suburbs, as if the palaces in which all the earlier Emperors had been content to live throughout their lives could not contain his household. 24 Thus it was not from motives of economy, but in order to effect the destruction of human beings, that they saw fit to neglect the building of the aqueduct, for no man in the whole world since the beginning of time has been more ready than this Justinian both to acquire money basely and then immediately more foolishly to squander it. 25 Of the two resources, then, namely food and drink, which had been left to those in extreme destitution, both were used by this Emperor to their injury, as I have stated, since he made the one, namely water, impossible to get, and the other, bread, far more expensive to buy.

26 And he treated thus not only the beggar class of Byzantium, but also, in some instances, those who lived elsewhere, as will immediately be told by me. 27 For when Theoderic captured Italy, he left where they were those who were serving as soldiers in the Palace at Rome, in order that at least a trace of the ancient polity might be preserved there, leaving each man a small daily wage; and these soldiers  p313 were very numerous. 28 For the Silentiarii,​8 as they are called, and the Domestici9 and the Scholarii10 were among them, though in their case nothing military remained except the name of the army, and this pay which barely sufficed to maintain them; and Theoderic commanded that this custom be transmitted to their offspring and descendants. 29 And to the beggars who had their station beside the Church of Peter​11 the Apostle, he ordered that the Treasury should for ever supply each year three thousand measures of corn. These pensions all these beggars continued to receive until Alexander, called "Snips," arrived in Italy.​12 30 For this man decided immediately, without any hesitation, to abolish them all. Upon learning this, Justinian, Emperor of the Romans, put the stamp of his approval upon this course of action and held Alexander in still higher honour than formerly. During this journey Alexander did the following disservice to the Greeks also.

31 The outpost at Thermopylae had from early times been under the care of the farmers of that region, and they used to take turns in guarding the wall there, whenever it was expected that some barbarians or other would make a descent upon the Peloponnesus. 32 But when Alexander visited the place on the occasion in question, he, pretending that he was acting in the interests of the Peloponnesians, refused to entrust the outpost there to the  p315 farmers. 33 So he stationed troops there to the number of two thousand and ordained that their pay should not be provided from the imperial Treasury, but instead he transferred to the Treasury the entire civic funds and the funds for the spectacles​13 of all the cities of Greece, on the pretext that these soldiers were to be maintained therefrom, and consequently in all Greece, and not least in Athens itself, no public building was restored nor could any other needful thing be done. 34 Justinian, however, without any hesitation confirmed these measures of "Snips."

35 So then these matters were moving on in the manner described. But we must now proceed to the subject of the poor in Alexandria. There had been a certain Hephaestus among the rhetors there, who took over the government of Alexandria, and while he did put an end to the factional strife of the populace, shewing himself an object of terror to the factious, he had brought upon all the inhabitants of the city the utter extreme of extreme misfortune. 36 For straightway bringing all the shops of the city into what is called the monopoly, he would permit none of the merchants to engage in this business, but having, alone of them all, become himself a retailer, he would sell every kind of merchandise, obviously gauging their price by the arbitrary power of his office, and the city of Alexandria was like to burst with anger because of the scarcity of the necessities of life — a city where, in former times, all things had been exceedingly cheap even for those in extreme poverty;  p317 and he pinched them particularly in the matter of the bread. 37 For he did all the buying of grain from the Egyptians himself, permitting no one else to purchase so much as a single peck, and thus he determined the size of the loaves and the price of bread just as he wished. 38 Thus in a short time he acquired for himself fabulous wealth and fulfilled the Emperor's desire in this matter. 39 And while the populace of Alexandria, through fear of Hephaestus, endured their plight in silence, the Emperor, out of respect for the money that kept coming in to him constantly, loved the man exceedingly.

40 And this Hephaestus, in order that he might be able still more to captivate the Emperor's mind, contrived this further scheme. 41 Diocletian, a former Emperor of the Romans, had decreed that a huge amount of grain be given by the Treasury every year to the needy among the Alexandrians. 42 And the populace, having distributed this grain among themselves in the first instance, have transmitted this custom to their descendants even down to the present day. 43 But Hephaestus, from the time in question, wrested from those destitute of the necessities of life as much as two million measures annually and placed it in the warehouses of the State, writing to the Emperor that these people had until now been receiving the grain wrongfully, and not to the advantage of the public interest. 44 And consequently the Emperor confirmed the action and held him in still greater favour, and those of the Alexandrians  p319 who had this one hope of a livelihood suffered most cruelly as a result of this inhumanity.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 The Rhetors were professional pleaders, or attorneys-at‑law; cf. Chap. xx.17.

2 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

3 The consul­ship was abolished in A.D. 541.

4 Cf. Chap. i.14.

5 Cf. Chap. i.33, note.

6 That is, he forced the bakers not only to adulterate their loaves but also to charge more for them.

7 A charge urged repeatedly by Procopius, e.g. Chap. viii.7.

8 Cf. Book II.xxi.2.

9 Cf. Book III.iv.7.

10 Cf. Chap. xxiv.15, note.

11 The church built by Constantine the Great on the site of the present St. Peter's.

12 As Logothete, he oppressed the soldiers cruelly, being reputed to be able to pare gold coins without changing their shape. Cf. Book VII.i.28‑30. The ψαλίδιον, diminutive of ψαλίς, was a clipping instrument; the term survives in modern Greek.

13 Cf. xxvi.6.

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